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George Preston Marshall

From Academic Kids

George Preston Marshall (18961969) was the long-time owner and president of the Washington Redskins of the National Football League (NFL).

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Biography

Contributions

Marshall was born in Grafton, West Virginia on October 11, 1896. In 1932, while he was the owner of a laundromat in Washington, DC, he and three other partners were awarded an NFL franchise for Boston (Reference: Pro Football Researchers Association (PFRA), The Coffin Corner Volume VI, 1984). This team became known as the Boston Braves, as they played on the same field as baseball's Boston Braves. Marshall's partners left the team after one season, leaving him in control. In 1936 he moved the team from Braves Field to Fenway Park, changing the team nickname to the Redskins. In 1937 he moved the team to Washington.

Although his team did enjoy great success, Marshall is known more for many of the frills which now mark the modern football game. During the early days of the NFL, college football was more popular. Marshall decided to incorporate elements of the college atmosphere into the pros. Innovations which he introduced include gala halftime shows, a marching band, and a fight song. The marching band is currently the only one officially sanctioned by any NFL team. The fight song, "Hail to the Redskins" is one of the most famous in the NFL. Marshall also suggested two major rules changes designed to open up the game and increase scoring which were subsequently adopted. One was to allow a forward pass to be thrown by any player who was behind the line of scrimmage at the time at which he released the pass, rather than a minimum of five yards behind the line as had been the previous rule. Another was the move of the goal posts from the end line to the goal line, where they were (and are) located in Canadian football, to encourage the kicking of field goals. This change remained in place for about four decades until NFL goal posts were returned to the end line in the mid-1970s as part of an effort to lessen the influence on the game of kicking specialists, many of whom were by that point foreign-born soccer players frequently derided by self-styled purists.

Marshall did many things to try and endear the team to the people of Washington. During the 1937 season, Marshall rented a train and brought 10,000 fans to New York to watch the team play the New York Giants. These actions paid off, and even today, Redskins fans are considered among the league's greatest, and some of the most likely to travel in large numbers to away games. The Redskins also hold the NFL record of most consecutively sold out seasons.

In the 1950s, Marshall was the first NFL owner to embrace the new medium of television. He initiated the first network appearances for any NFL team.

Controversies

According to professor Charles Ross (Reference: Outside the Lines: African Americans and the Integration of the National Football League, by Charles K. Ross, New York: New York University Press, 1999, ISBN 0-8147-7495-4), "For 24 years Marshall was identified as the leading racist in the NFL". Though the league had previously had a sprinkling of black players, just one year after Marshall entered the NFL, blacks were excluded from all its teams. While the rest of the league began signing blacks in 1946, Marshall held out until 1962 before signing a black player.

Ross asserts that Marshall propelled the NFL to institute a "color barrier" akin to that of its baseball brethren . As a result of Marshall's prodding, owners like Art Rooney and the fabled George Halas fell into line. Of course, no one openly admitted that a racial line existed, but it was apparent that it did. Indeed, years later, Halas remained defensive of the thinly veiled policy. "The game," claimed the legendary league founder and coach, "didn't have the appeal to black players at the time." Hence, from 1934 through the 1945 season, blacks, excluded from the NFL, were forced to settle for less than financially-rewarding exhibitions or semi-pro leagues.

Marshall caved in, finally, when Interior Secretary Stewart Udall issued an ultimatum: Sign a black player or be denied use of the new 54,000-seat D.C. Stadium (later renamed RFK) that the government had paid for,despite the 30-year lease Marshall had signed. Marshall's chief response was to make Ernie Davis, Syracuse's all-American running back, his number one draft choice for 1962. Ernie Davis's response was: "I won't play for that S.O.B." He demanded to be traded and was, to Cleveland, for all-pro Bobby Mitchell.

By the mid-1960s Marshall had given ownership of the team to his sons; however, he retained the honorary position of President Emeritus. Marshall died in 1969.

Quotes

"The Bears are front-runners. Quitters. They are not a second-half team, just a bunch of cry-babies." - George Preston Marshall

"We'll start signing Negroes when the Harlem Globetrotters start signing whites." - George Preston Marshall

"Mr. Marshall was an outspoken foe of the status quo when most were content with it. His fertile imagination and vision brought vital improvements to the structure and presentation of the game. Pro football today does in many ways reflect his personality. It has his imagination, style, zest, dedication, openness, brashness, strength and courage. We all are beneficiaries of what his dynamic personality helped shape over more than three decades." - NFL Commissioner Pete Rozelle

"Marshall was totally involved in all aspects of his teamís operation and endured his share of criticism for not integrating his team until being forced to do so in 1962." - Pro Football Hall of Fame, as part of Marshall's qualifications for induction.

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